Blogs > HNN > DNC Day 3: The Clinton Catharsis was a Con – and a Historical Hijacking

Aug 28, 2008 5:32 pm

DNC Day 3: The Clinton Catharsis was a Con – and a Historical Hijacking

Despite being genuinely moved when the Democratic National Convention formally selected its first African-American nominee ever, I was disgusted by the Clinton charade. We had been told that Hillary Clinton and her eighteen million voters demanded a “catharsis” that a roll call vote would provide. And yet, when the roll call reached New York State, Hillary Clinton, following a clearly laid-out script, invited the delegates to suspend the voting and nominate Obama by acclamation. With a different couple, playing out different dynamics, this could have appeared to be a gracious gesture. Instead, it appeared to be a historical hijacking, with Hillary Clinton grandly injecting herself into Obama, the Democrats’, and America’s magical moment.

Watching Bill Clinton’s performance Wednesday night removed any doubts about this admittedly ungenerous interpretation of Mrs. Clinton, who had made an impressive comeback in her own historic presidential quest. The ex-President was characteristically charming, charismatic, compelling – and completely self-absorbed. He gave the Democrats exactly what they wanted – an enthusiastic, eloquent endorsement of Barack Obama that was far more specific and substantive than his wife’s vague okay the night before. But this Clinton catharsis was a con because, like a compulsive flirt who everyone knows will succumb eventually, the drama was all self-made – and damaging.

By acting so ungracious for months, by being so petulant about Obama, the whippersnapper who dared seized the mantle both Clintons decided Hillary had earned, Clinton created the crisis his endorsement resolved. Thus the convention – and this particularly historic day -- ended up being far more about the Clintons than it ever should have been. By working himself so relentlessly and effectively into the Democratic story line, Clinton repaired much of the damage he had caused to his own reputation during the campaign, and made himself relevant in the 2008 Convention. But it came at great cost to Obama and the Democratic campaign. Far too much time and energy was expended in Clinton-crisis-management. Every moment reporters spent speculating about the joint will-he-or won’t-he and will-she-or-won’t-she endorsement questions was one less moment spent boosting the Democrats’ candidate, Barack Obama.

Moreover, ultimately, despite Bill Clinton’s clever, skillful endorsement, both Clintons made Barack Obama look weak. One Fox News commentator suggested that had the Clintons been the winners, they would have imposed a deal on Obama. They would have pushed supporters to cover the defeated rival’s campaign debt on the condition that he maintain a low profile at the convention and follow their script to a tee. Instead, as always with the Clintons, too much of this convention was all about them, rather than about Barack Obama and his historic but now somewhat distracted push for the presidency.

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Debra Guenther - 8/31/2008

Any news is a subject to the bias of not only the media corporation, but also the director, reporter/author and reader/viewer. As academics it is our role to both recognize these biases and inject our own in order to critically analyze the event (not the source).

What is more disturbing to me about this commentary though is that it adds to a disturbing trend of academics and political scientists victimizing Obama in situations where he clearly is at an advantage (and is in fact, glorified- not victimized). Why? Whether its the Clintons, the GOP, individuals, or large demographics (white, blue-collar Americans included)...why do so many respecter personalities aim to victimize and make a martyr of a man who has had a relatively positive life experience and successful political career?

Tim Matthewson - 8/31/2008

On many subjects, Gil Troy is an examplary historian, so cautious and balanced. But raise the subject of the Clinton's and Troy loses his cool and loses his ability to even strive for balance. He would be better off if he never wrote again about the Clintons. His books on the subject are horrible.

Maarja Krusten - 8/30/2008

I don’t read much (positive or negative) into Gil Troy's passing mention of Fox news -- not even that he watches it regularly. The blogosphere is full of sites where people discuss how tv, radio or print media commentators assessed news stories. Unless a blog author prefaces a mention of a tv show by writing "as I was watching," one can't tell whether he or she directly observed it or read about it second-hand. As an historian, based on the way I use evidence, I don’t see the support in his essay for stating definitively that he is a regular viewer of the Fox News Channel.

I used to look in on the FNC more than I do now, it no longer is part of my regular viewing lineup. I mostly read newspapers and news sites on the Web. When I look at TV news broadcasts, I stick to ABC (Charlie Gibson) and NBC (Brian Williams). Cable TV seems more geared towards generating heat than light. (Didn't one host of a cancelled shoutfest type show once express relief that he no longer had to adhere to partisan talking points that didn’t always reflect his own views? I think it was Tucker Carlson who said that when Crossfire was cancelled but I don't have time to look up the quote. I found such candor refreshing.) Anyone who knows how political messages are crafted and disseminated across the political spectrum understands the artificiality of much of the commentary that viewers see on cable shows.

I think most scholars understand that neither political party has the edge or holds the high ground in such matters. Getting the message out through talking points is part of the game for both parties. But it’s not surprising that members of the public don’t think about how messages are crafted and woven. You’ve undoubtedly heard about Bill Bishop’s book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. Just as some people prefer to live in physical communities of like-minded people, many look for that on TV and on the Internet as well.

As an Independent voter, who sometimes votes for one party and sometimes for the other party, I don’t seek that for myself. I think years of studying the Presidency, through my work with the Nixon tapes and other sources, have contributed to my generally cautious view of how political matters play out. I recognize what is going on. But for those who do look for niche TV, I think there’s a certain comfort psychologically in clustering with like-minded folk. It provides a sense of community and a validation of existing views. I suspect for some people, a sense of community (whether political, religious, professional) may provide a much sought after reinforcement of their sense of self. Those are very human reactions. People are people and they bring all sorts of human and visceral reactions to such matters. It’s not surprising to me that we have moved to niche news outlets on cable and on the web. For better or worse, it’s the way things are these days.

Vernon Clayson - 8/30/2008

Yes, Mr.Matthewson, reading the newspapers is the way to get real news, as if! Tell us which newspapers you read that actually report balanced news. The vast majority are biased left, apparently our part of the deal is to consider what they aren't saying to get a balanced view. Only those who lack imagination believe what is written, where do you get your view of the right's opinions to compare points.

Clare Lois Spark - 8/29/2008

I watch Fox News, and not only that I study ideology, censorship of every kind, and read history from divergent political positions. I am also familiar with the attempts of authoritarian "liberals" to paint as the Devil.
I thought that comparing differing interpretations of policy was the work of every liberal, science-oriented intellectual. What is your problem, sir?

Tim Matthewson - 8/29/2008

I've long wondered who watches Fox News, and now I know. It's Gil Troy. Try watching other channels or better, don't watch television at all, read the newspapers from around the country, and maybe you will come to different conclusons.